Attendance dips after TB outbreak at Grand Forks schoolIt has since returned to normal as Grand Forks School District officials reiterate that the disease does not spread easily.
By: Jennifer Johnson, Grand Forks Herald
Attendance at Phoenix Elementary School in Grand Forks was “mildly” affected Friday after word spread of the tuberculosis outbreak at the school, according to Principal Kevin Ohnstad.
It has since returned to normal as Grand Forks School District officials reiterate that the disease does not spread easily.
The district doesn’t have a clear policy for absences of this nature because of their rarity, according to superintendent of schools Larry Nybladh. Generally absences of more than a few days will prompt counselors and social workers to talk to the families of absent students, he said.
One of the parents who kept their children home was Jami Woinarowicz, who said she didn’t want her son exposed to the disease because she has a baby at home.
“I didn’t really want to send (him there) for a couple of days,” she said. “I just wanted to wait for the school to get a little cleaner, but they said it wasn’t a good enough excuse,” she said of calls from social services.
There are two confirmed cases of active TB among Phoenix students so far. Nearly 55 other students and staff with prolonged contact with those two were tested for the potentially lethal disease Tuesday. Public health officials expect initial results today.
Ten of the 18 confirmed cases statewide are in Grand Forks County.
Despite the TB outbreak, Nybladh said it’s perfectly OK for children to be at school.
“This is not a disease that’s readily spread in the school environment,” he said. “So far, the cases that have been determined in the school population have all been related to one household. As of now, there is no evidence there has been any spread of it in the school.”
Phoenix Elementary administrators are working with public health officials on how to advise parents. Information posted on the district website includes frequently asked questions, such as how the disease is spread.
Testing for TB has not been done at other schools in the district. The website said that public health officials are only testing those who have had prolonged contact with infected individuals.
The two infected students have been isolated and testing has already taken place, said Nybladh. “There are no other precautions a school district can take relative to this measure.”
For some parents, safety concerns remain.
Woinarowicz kept her son at home again Wednesday after the second TB case at Phoenix was confirmed Tuesday.
Nybladh said that anytime parents feel their children are at risk they have the authority to excuse their children from school. But, if it becomes prolonged, he said, the school will talk with the parents because of the state’s compulsory-attendance law.
Parents have rarely taken advantage of the policy, but when they have it’s mostly been related to inclement weather, he said.
At Phoenix Elementary, students have not been shaken by the outbreak, according to school counselor Denise Loftus. “I don’t really see an elevation or any kind of concern for it in the children.”
The school will help students welcome the infected children once they resume classes, she said.
“We want children to know that they don’t need to be alarmed or surprised, and all they need to say is ‘hi’ and ‘welcome back,’” she said.
The infected children are receiving medical attention, and Principal Ohnstad is meeting today with Assistant Superintendent Jody Thompson to develop a plan for their education at home.
Call Johnson at (701) 787-6736; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1736; or send email to email@example.com.